I have a friend who plays in a popular local rock covers band that has been going for three or four years. Right from the start, they found getting gigs to be relatively easy, and now they get offered so many they have to turn a lot down. He often tells me that if I want to play loads of gigs, then playing covers is the way to go. Personally, I think he's forgotten why he picked up the guitar.
He's not wrong though. Most local pubs and bars are considerably more receptive to covers acts than than to those playing their own material. With good reason - much of the audience seems only to be interested in hearing songs they know. Often it will be passing trade: Play something they know, they might stick around. And frankly, most pubs will not put your band on because they think you're great, or because they want to support struggling musicians. They do it because they want to sell beer, and they'll probably sell more if there's a decent band on than if there isn't. So for us, as a relatively new band playing original music, getting gigs in places like this is pretty hard, even when they think we're good. For instance, a booker who normally plans the whole year in advance recently told me that she couldn't book me a gig for 2011 because she didn't know if we had a following. I could call back in the autumn next year and book a gig for 2012 though. But how will she know then if we have a following? Is she depending on my honesty in telling her? As for us, if things go well, I hope by that time to be booking considerably better gigs than her dive of a pub. If we haven't got a decent following by then, then I'm probably wasting my time bothering to try and get a gig there.
There are places that cater for original music, of course, with trade that comes in specifically to hear it. Here we are subject to the vagaries of fashion, though. In Bristol at least, a lot of these places seem to feature either indie type music or very heavy metal. We are neither. And the work of booking bands has mostly been farmed out to promoters. Some are good, but some appear to be clueless teenagers working from their bedrooms: A few months ago I dealt via email with a promoter on MySpace who seemed unable to string a sensible sentence together. I gave him a number of dates we could play, but he told me he'd "filled the bill". A few weeks later he asked me to confirm that we were still playing. Well, I thought, did he mean we were on the bill when he said he'd filled it? If so he wasn't clear! I said OK anyway. He didn't reply. I decided he was a joker, assumed there was no point turning up for the gig. At 7pm on the night, he emailed to tell me the gig was cancelled "until further notice". What?! Are you going to change your mind in the next hour, I thought? Good thing I never bothered to load my stuff in the car.
We have had gigs, of course, mostly through personal connections. We've even played one place three times, with a fourth due in October. I'm very grateful for this, but really, we want to be playing original music venues. To larger audiences. And we're happy to travel, within reason. So Scotland or the States are a bit unlikely in the near future, but we're game for anywhere within a hundred or so miles of Bristol. Maybe a bit further for a really cool gig. Preferably on a weekend. Let me know if you can help. Leave a comment, or follow one of the links on the right hand side, to MySpace or ReverbNation, and write to us from there.